HARARE, Zimbabwe Anna Chagaro three months ago bought a loaf of bread for 300,000 Zimbabwe dollars a sum that today would be a bargain in this landlocked nation in southeast Africa.
After a three-hour wait at her neighborhood store, the office worker paid 1.7 million for a loaf but, like most people, does not believe official estimates released Friday that put inflation at 24,470 percent.
People living here know it is far, far worse.
Independent estimates put real inflation closer to 150,000 percent in Zimbabwe's worst economic crisis since independence in 1980.
"Ah, they lie. Prices are going through the roof every day and everyone knows it," Chagaro said.
If she spent her entire monthly income of 40 million Zimbabwe dollars at the dominant black market exchange rate, about $10, she could buy a pound of pork and a small pack of onions.
Like thousands of others, it will be bread for Chagaro.
"We can't afford that," she said. "The prices are unbearable. We'll make do with what we've got."
Scarce corn meal has risen 20 fold in the past year. About $6 buys a month's supply on the black market for a small family.
Official inflation numbers are based on prices fixed by the government. Those prices are rarely observed.
When thousands of business managers and store owners were arrested last year for failing to adhere to artificial government pricing, basic goods disappeared.
The last official inflation figure, released in early October by the state central statistical office, was 8,000 percent. The government then suspended monthly updates because there were not enough goods in barren shops to calculate the cost of a regular basket of goods.
Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono called independent inflation calculations "distorted and imprecise wild guesses" that hurt the nation's credibility. He said the official figures reflected "actual information."
Ordinary Zimbabweans do their own calculations using supermarket receipts.
The price for 2 pounds of chicken rose more than 236,000 percent over the past year, to 15 million Zimbabwe dollars, or about $3; eggs rose by 153,000 percent; and bread by at least 100,000 percent. One of the most modest increases, of about 64,000 percent, was for sugar, bringing independent estimates for overall food inflation to about 164,000 percent.
School fees increased last month by 600 percent, and the price of scarce gasoline trebled in the past week. Rent is astronomical.
Regardless of who is counting, inflation in Zimbabwe is the highest in the world.
"How do we cope? We don't. It's terrible," Chagaro said. "If we have a meal a day we are lucky."
That meal usually consists of the corn meal staple with a vegetable sauce.
Acknowledging nationwide hardship, bank governor Gono said that, with immediate effect, individuals and companies will be allowed to write checks of up to 10 billion Zimbabwe dollars. The previous limit was 500 million.
Gono appealed to his countrymen to exercise economic patriotism and help end daily power and water outages, food shortages, multiple exchange rates, interest rates and "rampant corruption, indiscipline and mistrust across the board."
The 2010 World Cup soccer tournament begins in 2010 in neighboring South Africa, a nation suffering its own spate of rolling power outages.
"As a country we cannot afford the world to congregate in southern Africa with our economy being an eyesore" in the region and in the whole of Africa, he said.